Labour and Leninism
In the 1980s, Labour faced an existential threat.
For most of its existence, it had managed to fight off a particularly awkward challenge from Leninists of one kind or another. Initially, in the post-wat years, it came from The Communist Party, and it was awkward because Leninists were always been able to present themselves as the expression of Labour’s soul – socialism of an uncompromising and pure type.
This is a lie on an epic scale, by the way, but let’s park that observation for now. [this link should cover it all]
There is no doubt that Labour had “fellow traveller” MPs – actual closet Communists receiving direct instruction from the party. It also had lots of “useful idiots” – either actual idiots, or MPs who had made a Faustian bargain with those fellow travellers. Some “Bennite” MPs turned a blind eye to the CPs parasitism because it made for a comfortable life if the niche you had chosen for yourself was one of “prominent oppositionalism.”
Oppositionalism is – by the way – part of the essential lifeblood of a good democracy, so many of us didn’t object to it too much.
Until the autumn of 2015, like many, I’d assumed Corbyn was one of the useful idiots. Then he appointed seasoned CP partisan Seumus Milne as his head of policy and organisation, so all of that had to change.
But let’s get back to the 1980s. By then, it started to look like Trotskyists – mainly the Revolutionary Communist League (or “Militant” as it styled itself) – could succeed where the Stalinist CP had failed. In both cases, entryism was designed not to take Labour to the left, but to discredit and destroy bourgeois electoralism. The aim was to weaken Labour, expose the country to the brutality that (they said) Labour only cushioned us against, so that the angry proletariat would rise up as one behind their revolutionary vanguard.
Labour survived this entryist onslaught due to two factors:
- The innate decency of the Labour Party’s core membership and its supporters
- A bunch of ex-Leninists rode to the rescue, bringing Leninist methods and skills to the aid of democratic socialism.
The nascent “New Labour” faction was significantly comprised of ex-Leninists. Peter Mandelson, Jack Straw and John Reid were all ex-CP. Stephen Byers, Alistair Darling and Alan Milburn were all ex-trots of one kind or another. All had learned the methods before deserting their erstwhile comrades, and had been declared as apostate.
All had experience of party discipline and know the poacher-turned-gamekeeper operation that was needed to defeat entryism. They all also fully understood the poisonous nature of the threat in a way that younger Labour Party members can’t grasp.
Their defeat of the Leninist left was almost total. “Almost” because they failed to completely expunge Leninists from the party. Galloway hung on for a while. Livingstone was allowed, reluctantly, to sock-puppet Labour to his own ends. “Morning Star” MPs like Alice Mahon and Jeremy Corbyn also managed to hang on and bide time.
In the meantime, all of those ex-Leninist converts eventually moved on. As an aside, I’ll add that their highly control-led methods did significant damage of its own to the party with its centralising and illiberal world view, and in terms of its ability to diversity and adapt to survive.
The new generation of SpAds-turned-politicians that followed them had no experience of vicious hand-to-hand political brawling. They got where they were due to patronage, not through being creative or politically robust.
All that really happened – once the party completely screwed up its election rules and gave Corbyn his unexpected opportunity - was that only one side of the battle was left with any experience of obsessive political infighting. It was a ‘side’ that we all assumed to have withered away. It was one that some of us had reluctantly co-opted because it seemed capable of keeping a few idealistic kids out of the hands of the Greens for the time being. Others (not me) were happy to co-opt them because their vicious “anti-imperialism” played well with the identity politics of some Muslim voters in key marginals.
For all of these reasons, Labour’s position is now probably not redeemable for the foreseeable future.
Labour Party members today seem immune to these arguments. They don’t understand just how destructive the world-view of Corbyn’s old acolytes is. If you’ve not seen this at first had, all of this sounds like some kind of right-wing smear campaign.
On a personal level, I’ve found it almost impossible to … er… explain to some thoroughly decent people what is happening here in a way that they seem able to understand. The word “explain” should encapsulate the problem here.
This may be because I’m totally wrong about all of this, of course. But if I’m right, we have to resign ourselves to the fact that they will have to learn the hard way, while the country suffers the terrible damage that the absence of Labour government brings.
We can only wait for the penny to drop.